Happy National Walk Your Dog Week, everyone! This yearly celebration, which runs October 1-7, originated in 2010 to highlight the growing problems of canine obesity and behavioral issues. Though it officially ends tomorrow, that’s no reason to stop focusing on the importance of walking our dogs, no matter the weather or how busy we are, every single day.
There are so many fun ways to take dog-walking to the next level. One way is to make the experience transformative and healing for not just your dog, but also for you. In case you missed them the first time around, here are links to two articles I wrote on this very topic:
Walking your dog is so great in so many ways: It’s excellent exercise, you spend quality time with your pooch doing what they love best, you get to breathe in fresh air, and dog-walking has even been shown to reduce stress and build your sense of community. But here’s an easy way to amp up your daily ritual and make it even more powerful: walk your dog mindfully.
When we think of mindfulness, we think of stillness, meditation, awareness and savoring this very moment with a full heart. Now incorporate these mindful intentions next time you walk your dog—and get ready to watch the many benefits unfold!
1. Slow down. If you walk the same loop around your neighborhood every day and you’re on autopilot, take a different path and consciously slow down. Instead of seeing the walk as a doggie bathroom break, awaken your senses and reconnect with nature around you. Feel the earth beneath your feet. Notice the new things around you. Breathe. Pay attention to how the flowers and trees smell, or maybe the crisp autumn air from a distant log burning in a fireplace somewhere. Listen to bird calls or the sound of the wind. Feel the sun on your skin. Follow your dog’s lead as he walks with balance and harmony on the earth. Getting out of your head and into the natural world in this way is very healing for both mind and body. (For more on the powerful healing properties of spending time in nature, check out my article on the Japanese art of “forest bathing.”)
2. Connect with the now. On this mindful walk with your dog, do not worry about what happened yesterday or in the past, or stress over what’s to come. Yes, this is difficult to do—but focus on setting your intention to focus only on this moment before you. This exercise in mindfulness allows you to free your mind and find a quiet place where true healing, inspiration and problem-solving can begin to grow.
It may help you to remember the five Reiki precepts.
For today only …
Do not anger.
Do not worry.
Practice diligently in your work.
Be compassionate to yourself and others.
3. Make mindful dog-walking your new habit. In our chaotic, busy lives, the reality is that, for most of us, mindful dog-walking will be difficult to do each and every time. But if you aim for 30 minutes three times a week, you’ll be incorporating more mindfulness into your life than ever before. And pretty soon something amazing will begin to happen: You’ll find it easier than ever to access that space of inner peace that our animals just naturally reside in—especially when times get tough.
Have you ever walked your dog mindfully?
I’m not really big on New Year’s resolutions, but I appreciate this idea of letting your animals guide you toward healthier, happier living. What better time than in January, when we’re all ready for a fresh start?
Here are five ways our beloved animal companions (especially dogs) can help us achieve our goals in 2015:
1. Live healthy every day: Walking your dog every single day (or even twice a day!) is an easy and fun way to add aerobic fitness to your routine without even realizing it. (Those of you with dogs know what I mean.) And if you’ve always wanted a dog but haven’t yet adopted one, a loyal and enthusiastic (albeit furry) walking partner could be just the motivational boost you’re looking for. In fact, according to the University of Western Australia, new dog owners walked an additional 48 minutes per week. For more on the amazing health benefits of walking your dog, check out this article.
2. Widen your social circle: Take your dog for regular walks around your neighborhood, and suddenly you meet neighbors you haven’t seen before. Take her to play on the beach or at a dog park, and you just might make new friends (and your dog can have a playdate, too). Let him join you when you travel, and you’ll discover dog-friendly gems like Carmel or Laguna Beach, California, which welcome leashed dogs in many hotels, stores and even some restaurants (on the patio).
3. Try new things: Whether it’s walking a new trail in the redwoods, biking, camping or even trying a fun water sport like kayaking or boating, most dogs are always up for adventure! Both of you will get to experience something new, and that alone can be super rejuvenating.
4. Advocate for animals: Sometimes it can be hard to find your voice or the time to really “live for” the causes and issues you believe in. Let your love for animals inspire you. If you witness cats, horses, dogs or other helpless creatures being neglected or mistreated (like stuck inside a hot car or in other terrible conditions), let the authorities know. If a specific area of concern interests you, such as the plight of feral cats or hoarding, find a local organization supporting that cause and see if their volunteer program is a good fit. You could even start a blog, use social media and fundraise to spread the word about the animal welfare issues you’re passionate about.
5. Give back a little bit more: You don’t need a lot of extra money to give back in small ways. “Shop for a Cause” programs like AmazonSmile, GoodSearch, iGive and Living Zoe let you shop for things you would buy anyway; they donate a percentage of the purchase back to the charity of your choice. Not sure which charity to choose? My favorite would have to be … the Shelter Animal Rescue Association, or SARA, which I founded with Leah D’Ambrosio to support animal Reiki programs at shelters and sanctuaries worldwide. You can find us on AmazonSmile, iGive and Living Zoe.
What are your New Year’s resolutions?